The regional soccer tournament for North America, Central America, and the Caribbean, the Gold Cup, kicks off tomorrow. This year's Gold Cup is a 12-team tournament, taking place in various stadiums throughout the United States.
This is the 12th staging of the Gold Cup, which has been won by Mexico six times, the US four times, and Canada once. Mexico is the two-time defending champion.
The first and second place teams in each group move on to the quarterfinal knockout stage, while two of the three third place teams will also advance to that stage.
Here is my preview, along with a few predictions. Teams I see advancing to the quarterfinals are in BOLD. (Current FIFA World Ranking is in parentheses):
Group A - Canada (88), Martinique (unranked), Mexico (20), Panama (51)
This should be the most entertaining and competitive group. Mexico has struggled recently, stuck in the middle of the regional World Cup Qualification group and did not impress in the recent Confederations Cup. On paper, however, Mexico is the best team in this group. Panama made a great run in the 2011 Gold Cup reaching the semifinals and is just a couple points behind Mexico in WCQ. Canada has not been on a good run recently, having missed out on the WCQ Hex, but that makes it dangerous as its focus is solely on this competition. The French Republic of Martinique is unranked by FIFA and it would be a miracle for it to advance.
Group B - El Salvador (94), Haiti (69), Honduras (55), Trinidad and Tobago (87)
Probably the most difficult group to pick from is Group B. Honduras seems to be the favorite on paper, as it is the only team in this group which was able to make it to the Hex and lost in the semifinals in the last two Gold Cups. However, El Salvador just missed out on the final round of World Cup Qualifying and was a quarterfinalist in this tournament in 2011. Haiti has some talent and recently drew with Italy in a friendly, which gives it a bit of an edge on Trinidad and Tobago in my book.
Group C - Belize (130), Costa Rica (39), Cuba (82), United States (22)
The host USA is the favorite in this group, and its Gold Cup squad demolished Guatemala in a friendly last night by a 6-0 count. Costa Rica has surprised many in World Cup Qualifying so far, as it sits in second place, and should not be underestimated in this tournament where it is often one of the final four. Cuba has won only one match out of 16 in its previous Gold Cup appearances. Belize will likely be overmatched in its first ever Gold Cup.
Panama (A2) over El Salvador (B2) - should be competitive, but Panama will take care of business
Mexico (A1) over Haiti (B3) - Haiti shouldn't be able to keep this close
Costa Rica (C2) over Honduras (B1) - this one will be interesting, with CR winning in a penalty kick shootout
United States (C1) over Canada (A3) - Canada always plays the U.S. tough, so look for this to be a nailbiter
Mexico over Panama - Panama gives Mexico a scare, but El Tri is able to hold on to a 1-0 win
United States over Costa Rica - this one could go either way, but I'll take the home team with a late winner
United States over Mexico - this is always a high-energy match, but Chicago will give the U.S. a nice home crowd advantage and Mexico won't have the firepower that the Stars & Stripes bring this time around with Landon Donovan and Herculez Gomez up front. USA 2, Mexico 1 in the final.
Who do you see winning this year's Gold Cup? Do you see a Cinderella-type run for someone like Canada?